Come to My Garden
Rainy Day in Centerville
Close Your Eyes and Remember
Oh, By the Way
Only When I'm Dreaming
In the late ’60s, Minnie Riperton was a backing singer at Chicago’s Chess Records and a vocalist with the psychedelic chamber soul group (and cult favorite) The Rotary Connection. The band never gained mainstream fame, despite some fascinating reworkings of the era’s pop hits. Riperton’s contributions were a high point, and fans of her magnificent five-octave range were eagerly anticipating her 1970 solo debut, Come to My Garden. They were richly rewarded. Though Garden tanked commercially upon its release, it’s now recognized as a ’70s-soul masterpiece.
Key to the proceedings is Riperton’s celestial voice, which hovers above the clouds in a range visited only by angels, theremins, and perhaps Yma Sumac. When she descends to the earthly realm, she alights on these songs as delicately as a butterfly on the lip of a flower. She’s met instrumentally by a flurry of harps, strings, and backing singers: In the dewy title track, she gently guides us along the garden path; in the standout “Les Fleurs,” she sings from the point of view of a flower that’s bringing hope to the world.
She reportedly wanted to record something in the Dionne Warwick/Burt Bacharach mold, but the result was much stranger, thanks in part to producer Charles Stepney, a Rotary Connection cofounder who brought their sweeping, orchestral approach to this album. (Stepney would go on to produce many Earth, Wind & Fire releases.) After the album failed to sell, Riperton went to Los Angeles to lick her wounds and perform as a backing singer for Stevie Wonder. Wonder quickly recognized her outsize talent and produced her second album, which included the gravity-defying hit “Lovin’ You.” Riperton’s later success eventually led critics to reevaluate her remarkable debut.